The Wolverine

August 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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AUGUST 2018 THE WOLVERINE 29 it — but the building was maybe 80 percent Michigan fans. Our fans are the best and the most passionate and the most loyal that I've ever seen." That's especially true during tour- nament time, and when the team is as good as they were this season. Nobody really knew what to expect when the Wolverines lost forward D.J. Wilson and guard Derrick Walton Jr. to the NBA, and forward Zak Irvin to the NBA G-League. Sophomore point guard Zavier Simpson had to replace Walton after playing spar- ingly as a freshman and not showing much offensively. Redshirt sophomore forward Charles Matthews stood out in prac- tices during his redshirt season, but still had to prove it on the court, and there were questions as to whether or not fifth-year senior Duncan Rob- inson could be good enough defen- sively to be a full-time starter. Matthews was a big part of the team's offensive success in the early going. He scored 20 points in his first-ever U-M game, an 86-66 vic- tory over North Florida, dominated with 50 points in the first two games at the November Maui Classic and — after some midseason struggles — rebounded for an outstanding postseason, earning West Regional Most Outstanding Player honors in the NCAA Tournament. Matthews scored 17 or more points in four of the six NCAA Tournament games, and his defense all year was one of the driving forces behind the team's 33-8 finish. Simpson was right there with him on the defensive end, dominant at the point guard position while com- ing up big in both wins over MSU (16 and 15 points). He averaged 7.3 points, 3.7 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game, and he's already working in the offseason to improve on his 28.6-percent three-point suc- cess. "This is a thing he knows he has to do … if 'X' [Simpson] can shoot like I think — he's really working at it right now — it's going to be really impor- tant to us," Beilein said. "He still does so many other things for us that he's important in every way." Robinson — replaced in the start- ing lineup by freshman Isaiah Livers (3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 15.1 minutes per game) — came off the bench to average 9.2 points and 25.8 minutes per contest en route to earn- ing Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year honors. Graduate transfer point guard Jaaron Simmons and freshman Eli Brooks both provided some critical depth during the season and had their moments, while sophomore Jon Teske and rookie Jordan Poole showed just how important the depth was in providing huge postseason moments. Teske was one of the heroes in the Big Ten championship win over Pur- due, notching 14 points in 21 minutes. Poole provided one of the NCAA Tournament's top highlights with a 30-foot three-pointer as time expired to give the Wolverines a one-point win over Houston in the round of 32. "To be honest, I'm thinking, 'Oh no, this might be over,'" Wagner admit- ted in his Players Tribune piece. "But then all of a sudden — it hits me. I realize, 'Wait … I've been here before. I've already done this play, this exact same play, countless times.' Every sin- gle one of us had. We'd all practiced it so much that it felt like habit. "When I say 'this play,' I'm not even just talking about the final in- bounds sequence where Jordan hit the buzzer-beater. I'm also talking about everything before that — ev- erything else that Coach Beilein had prepared us for. Coach B would have us practice our body language. He'd have us practice walking into and out of the huddle. He'd even have man- agers practice acting like fans who would be heckling us — to test our focus during timeouts. "It's wild, right? The highest-stakes moment of any of our lives … and the truth is, I think we mostly all just felt super calm and prepared." Beilein later admitted those teach- ing moments were a big reason why he decided to withdraw from con- sideration for the Detroit Pistons job after interviewing at least twice this offseason. "I like being around young kids, developing them," he said. "You get to see a kid like Austin Hatch through that period in his life [when he lost his family in a plane crash], go to Ber- lin and see a kid skinny as all get out go to the Lakers [in Wagner]. "I'm saying, let's do it again. That's the primary reason I think this is a great fit for me here at Michigan." He'll have to find replacements for Wagner, Robinson and graduated se- nior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur- Rahkman, and it won't be easy. Wag- ner, the Lakers' first-round pick (No. 25 overall), shot 39.4 percent from three-point range, while Robinson led the squad with 78 makes from deep on 38.4-percent shooting. Abdur-Rah- kman led the nation in assist-to-turn- over ratio for part of the year before finishing second in the country (4.40). Abdur-Rahkman broke his foot during workouts for NBA teams and probably won't get a chance to give his professional dreams a shot until fall. He told his local Pennsylvania paper, The Morning Call, it gave him time to reflect on his season. "Now that I've been back home a little bit, things have settled in and I've thought more about it," he said. U-M won 14 of its final 15 games en route to the team's second straight Big Ten Tournament championship and a national title game appearance. PHOTO BY SAMUEL MOUSIGIAN

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